Mickey Mouse’s Lost Rival: The story of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

We all know Mickey Mouse. He isn’t just a cartoon but the face of one of the biggest entertainment brands of all time. He’s a pop culture icon in his own right but he almost wasn’t. In fact, it would surprise you to know that Mickey wasn’t the original star. That honor belongs to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

But before we get to his creation, the scene must be set. In 1921 Walt Disney’s first company Laugh O Gram films premieres its first reel. A three and half minute short which mixes live-action and humor. It went down well so he made more. The success was fleeting in 1922 it had to file for bankruptcy as the distributor refused to pay for their work. The final film they made, an eight-minute live-action/ animation hybrid named Alice in Wonderland would catapult his career.

alice-comedies-autographen-postcard

In 1923 Walt and his brother set up the Disney Brothers studio and signs a business deal for six Alice Comedies for $1,500 each. However, he signed over all rights. The Alice Comedies took off massively and made a star of young girl Virginia Davis. In the end, Virginia Davis as Alice made thirteen “Alice” films. Davis would be quoted later as saying that working on the “Alice” films was “a great time full of…adventure”.

In 1927 Disney grew bored of mixing live action with comedy and stopped the “Alice” series to make a new series of animated shorts. For this, he needed a new star. At the time cats were the typical character with both Felix and his own “Alice” creation Julius being the biggest stars. So he chose a rabbit and thus “Oswald” was born.

Oswald was quite a simple design a black rabbit with long ears Designed explicitly to have a personality and to be able to use physical humor (like being splatted or messing with his own limbs) to make his films interesting and funny.

In two years Oswald would become the star of 26 animated shorts. Including the recently found short “Sleigh Bells” found in the British Film Institute Archive. Andrew Millstein the President of Walt Disney Animation Studios released a statement saying “The Oswald shorts are an important part of our studios’ history and we have been working with film archives and private collectors all around the world to research the missing titles,”

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